“Monday Musings” are designed to get quick, insightful thoughts based around three questions from those interested in strategy, from the most experienced and lauded, to our newest thinkers/writers.
1 — Who had the greatest impact on you intellectually (whether through writing, mentorship, etc.)?
John P. Sullivan of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. A wonderful mentor that showed me how thinking about conflict and policy required a community of diverse thinkers rather than one heroic mastermind figure, and one of the best examples of someone that bridged the theory/practice divide that I’ve ever seen. John not only taught me how to write for policy audiences, but also introduced me to a host of people and influences that would prove critical in my professional life over time.
2 — What book (fiction, history, or academic) do you think best explains strategy?
Intelligent Behavior in Animals and Robots by David McFarland and Tom Bosser. Not a book about a strategy or even war at all, but a good examination of how even simple animals deal with complex and often hostile environments. Clausewitz said that war is very simple but in war the simplest things are very difficult; to understand why, I think this book is probably the best illustration. Before we think about the strategies of nations, ponder the complexity behind the decision making and action selection processes of even the simplest of animals.
3 — What do you want your legacy to be?
I don’t think too much about my legacy because legacies are discussed after the person in question is dead. More important to me is simply the ability to have a productive career contributing something distinctive to the strategic discourse today, while I am still alive. While I’m alive, the most important thing for me is exploring the generating processes of strategic behavior in both individuals and organizations — I think that today is one of the most exciting times to study rationality, strategy, and decision making. If that translates into a legacy that lasts after me, great. But as far as I’m concerned that’s value-added.
Adam Elkus is a PhD student in Computational Social Science at George Mason University, a columnist at War on the Rocks, and a 2015–2016 New America Foundation Cybersecurity Fellow. He has published widely on strategy and technology at outlets such as the Armed Forces Journal, DefenseOne, Slate, and Foreign Policy. Elkus is currently studying computational modeling of strategic and tactical behavior.
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